Regional Differences

Darien Lake (E.Dailey)

Darien Lake (E.Deily)

Phish’s playing has always been influenced by their surroundings. Whether comparing indoor and outdoor shows, amphitheatre and festival gigs, or east coast and west coast shows, the differences in their musical style are striking. Without judging the bands’ different styles, one can certainly hear the difference in a Gorge show versus an MSG show- and if you can’t, well, you’re just not listening.  This past tour was distinctly divided by region, with seven western shows, one in the Midwest, and four in the Northeast, and when perusing the musical highlights of each, stylistic differences certainly emerge.

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Red Rocks (G.Lucas)

Opening at Red Rocks, the band entered a surreal, open-air atmosphere filled with very few extraneous fans who didn’t care about the show.  Between the stunning geography and the band’s ability to play to the stars, Phish blew up the wide-open, energetic and focused environments with jams of the same qualities.  As soon as Phish stepped on stage at Red Rocks, we heard a different in style from June- more relaxed, more patient, and more exploratory.  While this shift certainly had to do with the band’s enhanced comfort level after their first tour, there is no doubt that the laid-back environment lent its influence to the many amazing jams throughout tour’s first four nights.  Allowing more space in the music for their notes to breathe, the band’s musical characteristics of the weekend were illustrated in jams such as”Ghost > Wolfman’s,” Drowned > Crosseyed,” “Tweezer,” “Antelope,” and “Disease,” to name a few.  Make no bones about it, things changed over the five weeks off, but Red Rocks had a lot to do with the musical theatrics we witnessed over the four nights.

Shoreline 8.5 (W.Rogell)

Shoreline 8.5 (W.Rogell)

The scene shifted to the Bay Area for one night- the birthplace of the psychedelic revolution.  Busting out Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Taking Heads, and Los Lobos covers, Phish used Bill Graham’s classic amphitheatre to give a nod to many of their musical predecessors, regardless of their regional roots.  Featuring a multi-faceted and exploratory “Down With Disease,” Phish donated their own nugget of psychedelia to the historic shed.  Capping the show with intense excursions through “Maze” and “Mike’s,” you could tell we were no longer out in nature.

The Gorge (W.Rogell)

The Gorge (W.Rogell)

As we moved up to The Gorge, Phish settled in for two nights at the glorious venue; a site where they have historically played differently.  Featuring slower tempos and less notes, Phish has always allowed their music to bellow over the majestic and open-air surroundings; so much so, you can pick a Gorge tape out of an audio lineup.  The natural awe of the venue often gets soaked right into the band’s music, resulting in patient, other-worldly jams.  This summer’s first show in George, WA. was a perfect example of a “Gorge Show.”  Featuring patiently cosmic improv all the way through, this show sounded like a Gorge fantasy, with more than one of the tour’s best jams coming during night one.  The “Sneakin’ Sally”- which might just take the cake for jam of the summer, the “Bathtub Gin”- which isn’t far behind, a exploratory-turned-calypso “Light,” a first set monster “Stash,” arguably the most soulful “Hood” of the summer and a soothing “Slave” encore- this one is hard to hold a candle to.  But it wasn’t just that the jams were amazing, they were distinctly wide-open “Gorge-type jams,” and if you’ve listened to the band’s history at this venue, you understand what I mean.  These aforementioned jams would never happen at a tightly packed east coast shed- they are of a completely different vibe. (And vice-versa, the Chiacgo “Carini” or the Darien “Drowned” wouldn’t ever happen at The Gorge.)  “Wolfman’s,” “Antelope,” and “YEM” brought this style the next night in a distinctly less-Gorgey, but excellent, Saturday night show.  Interestingly, but consistently, Phish plays to different vibes in different parts of the country.

Toyota Park, Chicgo (D.Vann)

Toyota Park, Chicgo (D.Vann)

When the band jumped ship from the west coast, we all experienced a bit of culture shock, landing in the gritty surroundings of Toyota Park on the South Side of Chicago.  A far cry from the beauty of the west, the venue was large and sprawling like the city itself, creating an incredibly impersonal feel.  The stage was massive and removed from the crowd, and the crowd was once again infiltrated with frat boys and dirt-surfing hangers-on that plague mid-west and east tours.  After a week pure bliss, the band and the people on tour had to adjust to the urban jungle, and not surprisingly, Phish’s show wasn’t the most cohesive.  Feeding off the over-sized soccer stadium, the band played some standout jams, but the artistry of the setlist left something to be desired.  Dropping the biggest “Number Line” up to that point, a bombastic “Carini,” a spirited “Jibboo,” a solid “2001 > Chalk Dust,” and an impressionistic “Hood,” the music was all there, but the songs just didn’t fit together well and the set was discombobulated- much like the venue itslef.  We were all glad to hop into more familiar surroundings as we made our way to Darien Lake.

Hartford (T.Salido)

Hartford (T.Salido)

During the last four shows of tour, Phish swam back into their Northeast zone of comfort, hitting up four amphitheatres they had played many times before.  And as the music began to flow, there was an increased urgency and force behind in most of the jams, a noticeable difference from the wide-open textures of the west coast.  The standout improv was still there, but in a completely different vein.  Listen to the Darien “Drowned” and “Antelope,” the Hartford “Birds,” “Disease,” “Piper,” and “Ghost > Psycho Killer,” the Merriweather “46 Days” or the SPAC “Numberline” and “Rock and Roll,” and you will notice a more driving intensity behind the music giving it a more full-on feel.  Just comparing the Red Rocks and Hartford “Ghosts” illustrates my point quite well.  By no means am I saying one style is any better than the other- I love it all- but I am noting a musical pattern that is consistent for Phish.

Trust me, if you offered me a night at MSG or a night at The Gorge,  I would defer the decision to someone else, because each are separate but equal monsters.  While this geographic pattern of musical styles has always held true for the band, the differences in playing were accentuated this past tour as we hopped from region to region with no “connecting” shows in between.  In any tour that touches different corners of the country, one will hear different incarnations of Phish’s sound, as they adapt to their physical surroundings along the way.  People will always have opinions and preferences about each style, but you can’t have the yin without the yang, and therein lies the beauty of Phish tour.


“Makisupa Switch-Up” – The Gorge 8.8.09 (Photo: Eric Battuello)


Tags: , ,

415 Responses to “Regional Differences”

  1. dyda Says:

    oh i know, i think i need to read junky or queer. that was in response to vonnegaut and herbert having really good material that not many people are as familiar with as say slaughterhouse or dune

  2. Nissl Says:

    I have definitely seen reviews from people who did both Gorge and Hartford saying they thought Hartford was a better *show* than 8/7. Not better playing, maybe not something that will get listened to more post-tour, but a more intense experience. Maybe 3 to 2 in favor of Hartford.

    Also, although it has already started to shift, it seems like it was almost 50/50 between 8/7 and 8/8 from people who were there right after the show, maybe even 60/40 in favor of 8/8. 8/7 doesn’t have the same rock intensity. People seemed pretty shelled walking out after 8/8.

    Now I like 8/7 the most, but again I’m biased, that was the show where I was up front (and stayed there). I even exchanged the most awkward wave ever with Trey at the end of set 1. I was feeling locked in, so without thinking about it I waved, then he kinda half waved back before thinking (I would guess from the body language) “why the fuck am I waving at this random dude,” heh.

    Very difficult to separate that kind of stuff out from the music for me, so I can see why people who were at Hartford will stick with that show as their favorite.

    @JP and Mr.C

    Don’t worry, I’ll be at Indio as well, therefore with all of us there it can’t help but be even better than the Gorge 😉

    Professional hosemaster, sounds like a good job!

  3. dyda Says:

    i think king or his editors did what they did to six so it could be presented in those 13 stanzas rather than chapters. cause yeah the first book of seven is basically six (part two). and totally approach it for the journey rather than the destination. helps to read his other books that deal with the crimson king and his eventual weakening to the creature encountered in seven. i do disagree about two though cause i read that one in like a day.

  4. Pence Says:

    @Nissl–hilarious wave, but Ive seen Trey do that half wave to many adude.

  5. cal Says:

    pigs live in trees.

  6. MOonSHaKE Says:


    I tried to make it through Naked Lunch as well, but to no avail. Just too strange… like most David Lynch movies. The book Junkie was alot easier to read. These are the list of books I’ve got checked out from the local library and are waiting to be read…

    1> Black House * Stephen King (currently reading)
    2> Kurt Vonnegut * Sirens of Titan
    3> Kurt Vonnegut * God Bless You Dr. Kevorkan
    4> Douglas Adams * The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
    5> Bret Easton Ellis * Less Than Zero

    ***note: sorry for any spelling errors

  7. Little Buddy Says:

    Ahh the Phishthoughts book club. I love it!

    I’m a big Vonnegut fan. Breakfast of Champs is def my favorite. Love Tom Robbins and Herbert too. James Joyce is too freaking hard to read for me. I’ve read Finn Wake in academic setting but I don’t have the stamina for a book like Ulysses as a leisure read. I haven’t read a good novel in years because I’m stuck in dissertation hell. I only read scholarly journals and statistical theory (which I don’t understand, at all). I love reading these suggestion though. Nice work…

  8. notkuroda Says:

    So glad I didn’t miss the all the gorge discussion after being gone for a week! I LOVED both shows, but I think I had decided before 8/8 that 8/7 couldn’t be topped for me.

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’m going to start book 2 after I read the Pynchon. re: his canon, I recommend Vineland wholeheartedly. If you like it, then tackle Gravity’s Rainbow.

    I know the end of the Dark Tower gets very meta. I’m down with that, no prob.

    anyone who likes psychedelics and is patient with books that wrap their insightfulness in deep layers of the silly should check out Illuminatus! by Wilson and Shea

  10. nonoyolker Says:

    Re: Hemmenway – YES! I managed to read a Moveable Feast while in Paris and Sun Also Rises while in Madrid. Really great stuff. Something about his writing makes me want to crack a bottle of wine at 11 am.

    Been eyeing up Ulysses for a while now. To say it looks intimidating is an understatement.

    Read Faulkner! As I Lay Dying was pretty epic.

  11. Mr. Completely Says:

    re: Ulysses – IMO if you just kind of roll with it and let it wash over you and don’t worry too much about whether you “understand” it, it’s a wonderful and very transporting book. Think of it as poetry and read it aloud in your mind. The quality of the language is unmatched. Like riding a really open, spacey Phish hose. Don’t try to grasp the details, just flow with it.

  12. nonoyolker Says:

    Mr C – Way off topic, but I grabbed the Dark Star from 12-06-73 from your shared files (didn’t know you could do that, mad props for sharing!). Gadzooks, that one is a ride! My favorite has always been the one from Dick’s Picks 2 followed by 8-27-72, but this one is a nice rival. Any chance you have the Here Comes Sunshine from that show? That is one of those songs that you never really think about, but it usually has a pretty incredible jam (like Dick’s Picks 1 – GREAT version). I’ve been reading that the one played in that show is the sickness. Looked around (, etree) but no one has the show. Much obliged if you can hook it up.

  13. voopa Says:

    How about Bukowski? I was reading Ham on Rye preshow @ Red Rocks ’96…people stayed away.

  14. Lycanthropist Says:


    Faulkner and Douglas Adams both good choices

    Hitchhikers Guide is hilarious.

    lucky for you nono to be able to fully appreciate hemingway’s works from their actual live settings (paris madrid) I am envious.

  15. gavinsdad Says:

    new pynchon out now on hardcover.

    bukowski lauded celine which is how i got there.

    my shit is cheever and updike and richard yates. the northeast.

    love watching these sub-threads develop day to day.

  16. MOonSHaKE Says:


    I also likes the 5th book ‘Wolves of Calla’ I believe, but my favorite was the 4th book, the one where Roland tells the story of his first love and first real battle against evil. Don’t see King tackle romance that often, and with wizards, witches, and epic battles, it was a thrill to read. What did those crab creatures on the beach in book two sound like when they spoke? Daga’chee, Daga’Chum? Can’t remember… great series though… Dyda picked up the flippin’ book.

  17. nonoyolker Says:

    Mr C – Nice advice on Ulysses. Prolly have to get my hands dirty with it when I finish up the new Christopher Buckley. If you are into witty satire, pick up Little Green Men, God is My Broker, Boomsday, or Thank You For Smoking. Guy has a sharp tongue.

  18. gavinsdad Says:


    nice call on that asheville ghost. nasty.

  19. ColonelJoy Says:

    Read J.G. Ballard….died this year….awesome writer of short tales and longer fiction

    Try or Trey, if you will, “Concrete Island”

  20. Lycanthropist Says:


    Ah, the sweet sounds of lobstrosities!

    Lets not ruin this for anyone who hasnt read it.

    Wolves of the Calla is definitely my favorite
    Wizard and Glass a close second

    interesting info: The creative minds behind LOST are going to be adapting the entire Dark Tower series to film after they wrap up lost next year.

  21. MOonSHaKE Says:

    last message was for Lyanthropist… not Dyda… that was a different thread… I guess everyone can tell I’m a dreamer now… too much… too much… 😉

  22. dyda Says:

    oh shit, how could we have forgotten doug adams? 42 man. that’s all that needs to be said. that or god’s final message to the universe “we apoligize for the inconvience’

    david cronenberg is a bit different than david lynch, but i see what you mean. the thing to keep in mind about ‘lunch’ is that it isn’t necessarily meant to be read linearally. burroughs says as much in the atrophied preface which is placed at the end of the book.

    have you read ‘the talisman’ cause that’s jack’s story as an 11 year old in the territories and while not totally essential to ‘black house’ it does flesh out his past a lot. wait til you encounter lord munshun. crazy concept for a creature design.

    oh my, i’m going to be catching up reading all these suggestions until next year. i am sensing a somewhat common thread through a lot of these authors though. anyone else notice that? not the ones over 100 years old, but the more contemporary works

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    dharma bums is my favourite kerouac novel

    anyone read any rimbaud or baudelaire?

    bukowski’s short stories are great

  24. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    david cronenberg is one of the most overrated contemporary filmmakers. (cronenberg’s) crash is one of the most pretentious movies ive ever seen

  25. ColonelJoy Says:

    Mr. C, you finished Ulysses…seriously? What a monster you are…

    Oscar Wilde’s only novel is quite good…A Picture of Dorian Grey

Leave a Reply